Vivek Savkur is president of the B.C. division of the Canada-India Business Council. A longtime promoter of increased trade between Canada and India, he offered some insights into why he thinks B.C. businesses should look more often to India as a trade partner.
Q: What is the role of the Canada-India Business Council?
A: The role of the Canada-India Business Council, very broadly, is to create an atmosphere of bilateral trade between Canada and India. Trade between us is not much to talk about right now; it is less than $5 billion. The objective is to take it to $15 billion by 2015. Being in B.C., my focus is to get B.C. to do business with India.
To build toward this goal, we do things such as holding conferences. In fact, we are hosting a forum in November which will be attended by many Canadian businesses as well as cabinet secretaries from various sectors of the Indian government.
There will also be participation from the Indian private sector. Through all of this, we provide assistance and guidance to businesses in order to facilitate creating connections between Canadian and Indian business interests.
Q: What is driving the growth in India?
A: The government of India is going to spend $1 trillion building infrastructure over the next five years. The Indian economy is expected to quadruple by 2020; there's a tremendous opportunity for Canadians to take a big chunk of that through things like large building construction and road building projects.
India is a huge market; it has a huge population, and the younger generation has immense spending power. The impetus for this growth has come from the government of India, which wants to develop the country, and to lift its hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
It wants to increase the demand for natural resources, consumer products, better food production methods, and green energy technologies.
Really, this has been happening since 1991, when India's trade policy changed and Canadian companies started coming into India. Canadian businesses like Bombardier, Sun Life, SNC Lavalin – they have become very successful.
Increasingly, India is looking to Canada now to help further build the infrastructure it needs to accommodate this anticipated exponential growth.
Q: Currently, what does Canada primarily export to India?
A: Canada's five main exports to India are:
•dried, shelled leguminous vegetables such as lentils (25% of Canada's total export of this product);
•chemical fertilizers and potash (15%);
•newsprint, in rolls and sheets (11%);
•helicopters, airplanes and spacecraft (8%); and
• diamonds (6%).
B.C. is doing only 7% of the total of Canadian exports to India, totalling about $135 million. This is a very small figure. Recently, more Canadian delegations have begun to go to India, and I think that is a good sign that Canada is beginning to recognize India's vast potential.
Q: What strategies would you recommend for investors who are looking to India?
A: They should start thinking about it right away. Canada is already late.
People should invest in infrastructure, in the development of transportation [systems] and technologies, in power generation, clean technology, in almost every major sector, including agriculture and food.
Investors should find a good partner who knows the ropes, who knows how to do business within the country.
The Canada-India Business Council can help see them through with this and can guide them to find the right partners and identify the correct ministries with whom to work. We can also educate them on India's [business] policies.
If an investor has already identified a sector in which they want to invest, and they are ready to go ahead, they need to understand that there are some very important chambers of commerce with whom they should make a connection.
For example, there is the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce in Industries and the Confederation of Indian Industries. Some of these chambers are quasi-governmental, and all of them are very helpful for investors who are new to India.
Q: What challenges can they expect to face?
A: India is still not an easy place to do business. Corruption in some government bureaucracies can sometimes bring projects to a standstill.
But things have become much better and they continue to improve.
India also now has a right to information act, which is meant to shine a light on nepotism and other such issues that can be detrimental to the country's business success. India has recognized the need to win the trust of foreign companies.
Also, one of the biggest impediments right now to the further development of trade with India is the lack of a direct flight route between Vancouver and India. Until that is changed, trade between BC and India will continue to suffer.